Following the announcement by the Royal British Legion Board of Trustees to close all their Break centres across the United Kingdom the informal grouping behind the vigil held on 28th December 2019 outside Northern Irelands Bennet House have united to make the following statement.
Richard Scott MBE chairman of Military and Police Support of West Tyrone explained, ‘This is sad news for us all and I know that there is a hunger out there for information which to date has not been fed. It is unfortunate that the membership, beneficiaries and supporters have not been kept updated so we feel duty bound to speak again now.’
He added, ‘Organisations like MAPS all over the country are seeing an increase in veterans coming forward for assistance. The RBL’s failure to properly consult with veterans and organisations has resulted in us losing this facility. The Break Centre was a vital facility for veterans to seek respite, to talk and meet with others and to get away from it all for a while. Unlike those in London, I work day and daily with veterans needing support. I truly regret this decision. We believe that Bennet House will remain open until this summer for community use but there will be no breaks and all the staff will be gone. On the face of it this is nothing other than a sop from the Trustees.’
George Black MBE rejected the logic of the Trustees decision, ‘We dissected their arguments and totally reject their logic concerning Bennet House. We have repeatedly explained to them that the vast majority of our veteran population are of the Operation Banner demographic and whose mental and physical health needs are primarily age related, compounded by the fact that we live in a region where the British Armed Forces and those who served in them are openly condemned and demonised in the public sphere. That fact alone justifies the existence and upkeep of the one respite centre where they were safe to discuss their ex-military status without fear or consequence.”
Mr Black continued, ‘The RBL and the Trustees, in particular, have chosen to ignore the logic behind our argument at a time when more and more veterans are coming forward to seek help. The RBL has made changes with no transparent back up plan. This has angered members like me, beneficiaries and the general public who part with their hard-earned cash every year. I fear for the future of the RBL, but I am willing to await what the Trustees plans are post closure.’
Regarding the future action, Mark Mc Laughlin reflected the anger he had sensed at grass roots level, ‘We want to keep up our campaign and keep the pressure on the Trustees to show the veterans of Ireland due respect’ He continued, ‘We have felt the palpable anger within the community to the decision however we ask the membership in NI, beneficiaries and public not to have a knee jerk reaction in their attitude to the RBL.
Please allow us to carry on the campaign and see what comes out. To date communication from the RBL with those affected has been poor but, we promise that we will continue to do what we can to ensure this fine institution remains intact.’